Feisty Flu wrest the initiative

Fluminense enjoyed a profitable trip to Buenos Aires on Wednesday, when they came back twice to thwart an enterprising Boca Juniors side and gain the upper hand in the first leg of their Copa Libertadores semi-final. Both Boca's goals came from Juan Roman Riquelme, with the two Thiagos, Silva and Neves, hitting back for the visitors to secure a draw that will almost certainly feel like a win.

"It's a great result but it would be a huge mistake to think Boca are dead and buried," commented Thiago Neves afterwards. "They've already shown what they're capable of."

Over in the opposing dressing room, a disappointed Martin Palermo gave his reaction to the result. "We're annoyed because we worked very hard and yet they end up getting an undeserved draw. We're staying calm though. We'll be going to Brazil to play our usual game."

The pressure will be on the Argentinians in next Wednesday's return leg at the Maracana, where only a win or a high-scoring draw will be good enough for yet another Libertadores final appearance.

End-to-end football
Running out in the unfamiliar surroundings of the Estadio Presidente Peron, Racing Club's home ground, Boca quickly made themselves at home and took the lead after only 11 minutes thanks to a fine team move. Receiving the ball from Cristian Chaves, Martin Palermo chipped an excellent pass to Rodrigo Palacio on the right. After ghosting past his marker, Palacio cut the ball back to the waiting Riquelme, who had the simple task of slipping the ball past Fernando Henrique in the Fluminense goal.

But O Fluzão pulled level only four minutes later when Thiago Silva headed home from Thiago Neves' arcing free-kick.

Far from overawed by the occasion, the tactically disciplined first-time semi-finalists continued to pose problems for Riquelme and Co, harrying them all over the pitch and continually probing down the flanks.

Despite dominating possession, the reigning champions could not find the killer pass, although Chavez struck the crossbar and Jesus Datolo also went close. But the hosts could have fallen behind just before half-time had full-back Junior Cesar picked out the unmarked Washington in the box instead of electing to shoot.

Sterile domination
After the restart, however, the Brazilians retreated into their own half, leaving Los Xeneizes free to boss the game. And it was not long before the chances start to flow. First, Fernando Henrique somehow kept out Gabriel Paletta's header before Chavez shot narrowly over from the edge of the area.

With 25 minutes remaining, Riquelme put Boca in the ascendancy once more when his free-kick from just outside the penalty area deflected off a defender stationed in the wall and squeezed inside Fluminense's left-hand post.

Far from settling Boca nerves, the goal only prompted Fluminense back into action, Thiago Neves shooting just wide and Washington's stinging left-foot strike forcing Pablo Migliore into a scrambling save. The Argentinians failed to heed the warning signs and paid for it when Migliore misread the flight of Thiago Neves' fierce volley and palmed the ball into the back of the net.

With less than fifteen minutes left on the clock, Boca went in desperate search of a winner. It almost came when Palacio unleashed a right-footed strike that Fernando Henrique did well to save, before Palermo headed wide from close range in the closing moments.

That miss leaves the six-time champions with the task of repeating the second-leg escape trick that served them so well against Atlas in the previous round. The Maracana will prove a daunting stage next week, however, and with Fluminense's morale sky high after escaping from Boca's backyard with their options intact, the champions have it all to do.